Harvard vs Stanford

4 Key Different Between HARVARD and STANFORD

Harvard is on the East Coast. Stanford is on the West Coast.

Harvard is older and more traditional. Stanford is newer and more liberal.

Harvard is well-known for its liberal arts and humanities. Stanford is well-known for its engineering and technology.

Both are great schools, but which one is right for you? Below, I’ll detail 4 of the biggest differences that matter to you as a high school student. It’s not about their U.S. News & World Report ranking. It’s not about which one your dad went to, or which one has the better sports teams.

1. The first difference is geography.

California is very different from Boston. Think about where you want to live. Many of the people at each school will tend to stay in that area after graduation.

For Harvard, most graduates will either stay in Boston or migrate to other big cities on the East Coast, such as New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. Most new graduates tend to stay in the San Francisco/Bay Area or perhaps move down to LA.

There are some who will migrate to the East Coast, but relatively few will do so. To think about which region culturally suits you better, consider the following: are you more traditional or conservative?

If you are more conservative, you would probably prefer East Coast living. If you are more liberal and laid-back, you will probably enjoy sunny California lifestyle. These differences are important and will affect how happy you are in your life.

2. The second difference is in your preferred major.

Let’s assume that you want to be surrounded by the absolutely the best students, professors, and resources in any given field of study.

If your focus is humanities, English, social studies, or history politics, Harvard will have the best professors for you. They are typically at the top of their fields. Harvard will probably also have more resources for scholarships and grants, and more academic conferences and opportunities for you to pursue research.

If you’re interested in engineering and technology, Stanford is a much better place for first year. In Silicon Valley, say, you’re just a hop-skip-and-a-jump away from the top venture capital firms in the world, the top startups, and the top technology companies like Hewlett-Packard, Cisco, and Sun Microsystems.

Stanford’s engineering department is also much bigger and much better funded. You will have more opportunities to do independent research work with the top professors solving interesting problems.

3. The third big difference is cultural attitudes.

Stanford students are much more laid back, more well-rounded, with generally more liberal attitudes. The campus atmosphere is one of fun.

You will work hard and play hard as well as taking easy and trying to enjoy life.

My impression of Harvard student body comes from knowing a lot of students and friends there. It seems that the environment is much more intense. It’s more academically competitive.

That’s not to say there’s no partying at Harvard.

Harvard students get into plenty of trouble, and there are a lot of parties on campus; however, your day-to-day life will feel a little more rushed, a little more stressed, and a little more academically competitive. Quite frankly, people there more serious.

4. Finally, think about what you want to do with your life

Stanford has a much stronger reputation on the West Coast and Asia. If you want to work in China you may consider going to Stanford.

Harvard is older, and in general, is probably slightly more prestigious worldwide. It also has a stronger presence in business, so if you wanted to go into finance or consulting, you might want to consider Harvard.

If you want to do technology entrepreneurship, Stanford is an obvious choice. You really need to think about these things before make your final decision.

Ultimately, both schools are among the best in the world, and you will have a great four-year experience. You can’t go wrong with either. I hope this article highlights that you really need to think it through before make your final decision.

Harvard vs. Stanford: Which one is right for you?


I’ve finally enabled comments on this site, so please leave me thoughts, questions, and more!

Slight change of pace today. Instead of the standard focus on college admissions topics, we’ll talk about life in college itself.

Stanford or Harvard? Harvard or Stanford? It’s a question that many people debate. Obviously, getting into either is a significant accomplishment that can’t be won without a great admissions strategy.

But everyone needs a better understanding of what they’re getting into. In this article, I’ll address the key academic and cultural differences between the two schools. Hopefully after reading, you’ll have a clear idea of which one is a better fit for you.

I cover Harvard vs Stanford and not, for instance, Harvard vs Yale because the differences between Stanford and the top Ivies (HYP) are pretty significant, while the differences amongst the top Ivies is, in my opinion, marginal

The academic differences between Stanford and Harvard

1. Stanford has an engineering program, while Harvard doesn’t (not really, anyway)

This will make a big difference if you want to pursue studies in, say, mechanical engineering or electrical engineering. These are intensive majors, and will leave little time for anything else. But if intensive engineering really isn’t your thing, this won’t make a big difference to your decision.

Yes, it’s been brought to my attention that over the last few years, Harvard has turned their engineering “division” into a formal school. And while it has grown somewhat in the last 2 years, their is still a world of difference (with respect to quality of faculty, research funding, total educational resources, and breadth of student body) between Harvard and Stanford engineering.

2. Harvard has stronger teaching in most humanities and social science subjects

This is a generalization, and based only on my observations of Harvard and my 4 years at Stanford. Their undergrad teaching in the ‘BA’ subjects is simply of a higher quality – primarily a result of being able to attract by far the best professors (which in turn attract the most talented grad students who often do a bulk of the teaching).

3. Harvard is more academically competitive with respect to GPA, class standings, etc

Simply the result of an academically stronger undergraduate body. When you reach a “tipping point” of the number of highly-focused, hard-working students, it contributes to an overall student body that is simply harder-working, more academically interested, and so forth.

This is both a pro and a con. You may work harder, but ultimately have less to show for it.

4. Stanford encourages more academic exploration than Harvard

It’s easier to switch majors, you can “shop” classes for longer, and its easier to craft your own study program. In addition, Stanford has plenty of student-initiated courses on all sorts of interesting topics as well as many interdiscplinary programs.

This is great in one sense because you get to dabble in many different areas, truly explore your academic and intellectual interests, and so forth.

The con is that, relative to Harvard, you may not develop sufficient depth in any one area.

The cultural differences between the two

1. Stanford is more laid-back

This goes hand-in-hand with the earlier point about academic competitiveness. Stanford students are simply more cooperative, friendly, and generally relaxed relative to their Harvard counterparts. While Stanford can be known for the “duck syndrome” (calm above water, paddling furiously below water), this still pales in comparison to the daily intensity that is Cambridge.

2. Harvard is somewhat more integrated into its neighbor city (Boston)

Stanford is pretty much a bubble. San Francisco is 45 minutes away by car, and most students don’t own a car. However, Harvard and its surrounding area is much more pedestrian friendly, and you’ll be exposed more to Boston and its city life than Stanford students with SF.

That’s not to say that Stanford has nothing to do – it’s just that your campus years will be focused, literally, on-campus.

3. Stanford has a history of entrepreneurship, while Harvard focus on more traditional careers

If you’re looking to do something off the beaten path, Stanford will have more resources and better mentorship to help you get there. Harvard is more focused – both its institutional resources as well as its student body – on standard career paths like business, government, etc.

That’s not to say you can’t have a successful corporate business career from Stanford or be a famous entrepreneur from Harvard. I’m talking more about the norm – not the exception.

That ends our discussion today. I hope that’s provided you a better view on the key differences between the two schools, so you can make a more informed decision (and also, use this info to write better college admissions essays!).


Olivia, Peace & The Olive Tree | www.mstruonganh.com

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